Meet our SEPA 2021 Winners


SUNSTUDIOS is proud to announce the four 2021 SUNSTUDIOS Emerging Photographer Award (SEPA) winners. From over 1,600 submissions across Australia, an anonymous judging process selected 40 finalists, and ultimately four winning entries across photo and video categories. Each winner receives $6,000 to spend across SUNSTUDIOS’ creative services, a customisable prize designed to support their next project and career goals.  



RYAN CANTWELL: Close Comfort, Distant Trouble



On this day it was hard to ignore the bushfire happening in the distance as the smoke cloud constantly changed by the second. As I stood waist height in the water witnessing the normalcy of a summer day at the beach, it was also a reminder not to turn our back on nature.


Like many, Ryan Cantwell started out in photography through a love of skateboarding.


“It’s quite normal for skaters to grab a camera and document skating and all things in between. And just the dark room at school as well. The introvert in me was very happy to retreat to the darkroom and not have to deal with hang outs and stuff.”


After moving to Adelaide he decided to try photography in earnest, enjoying a varied working life assisting, shooting and working as a digi op in editorial and advertising.


His winning work was taken as part of his personal practice.


“When I’m not working I really try to ensure I am shooting for myself - just to make sure I have that balance of why you enjoy doing it. That day I knew the bushfires were happening and it was a very hot day.


I was watching that fire grow, noticing the atmosphere changing with the mushroom cloud effect. I was with my girlfriend at the time on the beach. It took me about ten second to run back and get my camera. There was a huge fire in the background but everyone was just on the beach, it wasn’t their problem. They were just enjoying it like a normal Australian summer day.


“Then the bird came into the frame and it was just a decisive moment as they say in photography. I like oddities and it’s odd what’s happening in that photo – kinda scary as well.”


No Face Only a Dark Place by James Malone

JAMES MALONE: No Face, Only a Dark Place



A self portrait. (not literally).


The pandemic brought James Malone back to Sydney after years working to establish his career in Dubai.


“I found an internship in a studio similar to SUNSTUDIOS. I was an assistant and a digi tech for about four years while shooting on the side. Through assisting I realised that I wanted to shoot fashion. I love the whole scene of fashion, beautiful wardrobe and how collaborative it is as a team.”


His winning image was made in the UAE, influenced by an intensely hot summer.


Summertime comes and everyone travels. I was left there. Friends had gone back to their home countries or on a holiday somewhere. That picture was made during that time and I took a friend with me from the same situation. We styled it together, picked the location and shot it. It was really about painting a picture of how I felt at the at time of my life.

"I’m not going to lie: it was kind of dark and lonely. I wrote somewhere in the description that it was a self a portrait. And it represented me at that time.”





A shared camaraderie of frustration with a fine line of numbing dullness. As humans we will live and die for our freedom, but when you’re confined to a prison of your own construction, it acts as a shield against the unpredictability and lurking chaos of the outside world.


 Jonathan McIntyre completed a Bachelor of Film at SAE and then graduated straight into the creative challenges of COVID.


“I grew up with a grandfather who was a news reporter back in the ‘70s and he would always bring out his camera and we’d be making short films. I’d be the actor and he’d teach me how to use the camera, so I’ve always had one in my hands.


“When I was in high school, 2016, I developed a heart condition which closed a lot of doors. Back then I was a state player for NSW in basketball and I had a scholarship to go to the states and play after school. But unfortunately, that was not possible, and soon after that I lost my grandfather.


“After the funeral I went back to my grandfather’s place and I was going through his cameras. It kind of clicked in my mind. This is what I want to do.”


His winning film Just Appreciate was shot specifically for SEPA without crew available within a 5km radius of his LGA, with McIntyre working as talent, sound and DoP. He collaborated closely with Jarrod Coslovich in pre-production to work on the script and ran streamed tests for planning.


I kind of felt like I was in a cage. I didn’t seem to appreciate many things. But being stuck between four walls opened my eyes to the fact that things could be worse. I’d been through a rough patch before and I’d come out well.


“It doesn’t matter what you are trying to accomplish. You need to take in the small things around you.”





Wonnarua is a contemplative moving image installation work that aims to provoke discussion around themes of Indigenous ways of living in juxtaposition with western settler-state system's unsustainable, damaging ways of using stolen lands.


The video diptych contrasts living portraits of five Aboriginal people from the Wonnarua Nation with drone shots of the vast Muswellbrook coal mines, which are situated in the heart of the Wonnarua Nation. The frame in which the video work sits is an 1820's antique Victorian era influenced design which correlates with the exact time period that European settlers first reached Muswellbrook, Wonnarua Country. The symbolic frame also metaphorically acknowledges the paradox of living in and between.


Ryan Andrew Lee completed a Bachelor of Media Arts at COFA and began working in cinematography and the arts.


His winning film Wonnarua evolved naturally out of two separate projects when he noticed a connection.


It happened by chance that work to be honest. It started out as some documentary filming, I was filming a smoking ceremony for one of the elders in my area back in the central coast. And then I ended up filming some stuff ad lib afterwards, people washing off ochre in the river. I had also filmed at the mines in Muswellbrook a few months earlier as I wanted to do some kind of eco activist work. I started contrasting the two and realised the connection, that the men lived in the same place as where the mines are. And from there it grew.